Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday expressed support for legislative repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during the lame duck session of Congress, but said he’s uncertain whether lawmakers would be able to complete the task.
Asked about the possibility of repeal before members of the next Congress are seated, Gates replied, “I would like to see the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ but I’m not sure what the prospects for that are. And we’ll just have to see.”
The comments, which Gates made to reporters aboard a U.S. military aircraft, mark a change in the defense secretary’s position. Previously, Gates had said waiting for the Pentagon working group report, which is due Dec. 1, would provide the best guidance on moving forward with repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
With a new Republican majority coming into power in the U.S. House and a reduced Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, prospects for legislatively ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will be diminished when the 112th Congress begins.
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said he welcomes Gates’ call for passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal before the end of the year. Repeal language is in the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill, which is pending before the Senate.
“If the President, Majority leader Reid, Secretary Gates, and a handful of republican senators are committed to passing the comprehensive defense bill, there is ample time to do so,” Sarvis said.
Sarvis added that any talk of passing a “watered down” defense authorization bill with the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” provisions stripped from the legislation would unacceptable and offensive to gay, lesbian and bisexual service members.
Gates’ comments come the day after the new commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Amos, said now isn’t the time to end the military’s gay ban. Amos assumed his position as commandant last month.
On Saturday, Amos told reporters “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal could have unique consequences for Marine Corps. The service puts two Marines in each room in the barracks to encourage a sense of unity.
“There’s risk involved; I’m trying to determine how to measure that risk,” Amos said. “This is not a social thing. This is combat effectiveness. That’s what the country pays its Marines to do.”